French driver Esteban Ocon to drive for Renault next season


Force India driver Esteban Ocon of France answers a question during a press conference at the track in Melbourne, Thursday, March 23, 2017. Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix, where F1rule changes requiring wider tires, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce are expected to make the heavier cars significantly faster than previous years. (Rick Rycroft/AP)

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium — French driver Esteban Ocon will return to Formula One next season with the Renault team.

Renault said Thursday that the 22-year-old Ocon has been given a two-year deal. He will compete alongside Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo. German driver Nico Hulkenberg lost his seat.

Ocon was previously a Renault reserve driver in 2016, the year he broke into F1 with the Manor Racing team.

"I am very attached to this team and everyone who works there. They are the ones who opened the doors of top level motorsport for me," Ocon said. "I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1. It is a responsibility I take very seriously."

Ocon has a point to prove after sitting out this season in frustrating circumstances. He raced for Force India last year, but after the team was taken out of administration following a takeover by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, he was replaced by Stroll’s son, Lance Stroll.

After not getting a seat elsewhere for 2019, he was as a reserve driver for Mercedes this year, having come through its prestigious junior program. He was touted to replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes next year, but Mercedes on Thursday announced Bottas is getting another contract.

"Over his F1 career Esteban has experienced the highs and lows of the sport, and fully understood the need to seize every possible chance," Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul said. "In addition to lending his natural talent, Esteban’s aim will be to focus his natural energy and drive, both of which have been intensified by a year away from racing."

Abiteboul said it was a tough decision not to renew Hulkenberg’s contract, which expires this year.

"When Nico decided to join us, the team was ninth (in the constructors’ championship). He brought us to fourth place last year, and was classified seventh in the drivers’ championship," Abiteboul said. "The imminent end of his contract made this decision a difficult one as Nico has been a pillar of this progress. The first part of this season has been more challenging."

Hulkenberg is in 14th place in the driver’s championship and has scored points in only four of 13 races so far this season, with a best finish of eighth place at the French GP in June.

One reported option for Hulkenberg is that he replaces Romain Grosjean next year if the Haas team does not renew the accident-prone French driver’s contract.

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